BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Covering the IMF

This morning, I covered the press conference of the International Monetary Fund's managing director Rodrigo de Rato.

As always, I learned and re-learned new things. In times like these, one learns from the whole briefing. There is, for one, my favorite economic journalist who never fails to dish out intelligent questions. Then, there are the different issues. There's also the difficult part of choosing the best angle for one's paper and its readers. But I love it. I've been in this business for more than five years but I continue to learn so many things. Everyday is a new day. It's magical.

five men

Driving home from work this evening along Commonwealth Avenue to Tandang Sora, I noticed five men lined up against the wall, answering the call of nature. They all looked so relieved.

About three steps away, I saw Bayani Fernando's pink urinal. It was empty and in that particular moment, it seemed really useless. What a waste of taxpayers' money.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Questions from a friend's blog...

how do you tell someone that they hurt you?

more importantly, how do you move pass the pain?

i wonder, does talking really fix things or do does it do further damage?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

budget deficit at P41 billion!?!

At ten minutes before 2 p.m., the board room at the 6th floor of the Department of Finance office was already filled to the brim. Reporters -- from television, print and wire agencies -- gathered to get the deficit report for the first half of the year.

It would be my first time to cover a budget deficit press briefing.

Finance Secretary Teves, along with other officials arrived to break the news: The government's budget deficit had swelled to P41 billion in the first half of the year, above the programmed ceiling of P31 billion.

I managed to submit the deficit story, along with three other articles ahead of my 4:30 p.m. deadline and I thought I did well.

I would later realize that I should have made more sense of the numbers.

A P41-billion budget deficit essentially means the government having less money for social services and infrastructure. It's why the cost of healthcare in the Philippines is soaring and it's why the country's roads and infrastructure remain inadequate.

It also means that corruption in the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs remain rampant, making them unable to meet their tax collection targets.

Reporting on numbers can be tricky. Next time, I promise to make it better next time.

As editors always say, we're just as good as our last story.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

In Singapore

Had a chance to see more of Singapore during my second visit to this Southeast Asian country. After Vietnam, I went to Singapore where I was to take my trip back to Manila.

I enjoyed Singapore more during this visit than the first time I saw this country three years ago.

After accomplishing my mission here, I met up with two of my sorority sisters for dinner and some drinks.

I stayed at Justine's place and what a delightful experience it was. My batchmate, you see, is such a creative genius. She is in Singapore designing buildings, homes and restaurants. I had a good sleep in her place because her creativity and ingenuity spilled all over.

The following morning, I headed straight to the airport for my trip back to Manila.

It was a tiring seven-day Southeast Asian swing but definitely worth all the trouble.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Echoes of War

HO CHI MINH, Vietnam - To many of us, the Vietnam war is a distant memory of the past. But at the War Remnants Museum here, the memories linger, constantly and painfully.

On display are hundreds of photos, artifacts and other vestiges of war crimes and aftermaths. One is moved by the portraits of US imperialism and foreign aggression: torture, blood, pain, desperation.

There's the Pulitzer-prize winning photo of photojournalist Kyoichi Sawada in1965 of a Vietnamese mother crossing the river with her children to flee from American bombs. (see photo)

There too, are photos of victims of Agent Orange. One child whose mother was exposed to the dioxin when she was pregnant was born without his right arm.

There's also a collection of photos taken by 134 war reporters (from 11 nationalities) killed during the Vietnam war. Through their lenses, the world saw the savagery of the war.

The war reminds all of us of the brave souls of people and the strength of the human spirit. It defines who is real and who is not. More importantly, it reminds us, constantly, of our good fortunes.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Hello, Saigon

HO CHI MINH, Vietnam - "Iri-," the immigration officer called out loudly among the passengers. I didn't realize it was me he was calling until I saw the green passport in his hand. One by one and very quickly, he checked the passports of each passenger. He was moving fast. We were at the border between Cambodia and Vietnam.

Vietnam is a place where life moves so fast. Unlike in Siem Reap, everything moves swiftly here, so fast that one risks losing a limb when crossing the streets of this Southeast Asian country.

There are pedestrian lanes but it's as if they don't exist for the never-ending stream of scooters. There are reportedly 5 million scooters in Ho Chi Minh, a city of 4.5 million people.

Really, there are bikes, cars and buses coming from all directions. They drive so fast and they weave in and around pedestrians as if we're driftwood on a raging torrent. Crossing the roads successfully is always an accomplishment.

It's also a very noisy city with horns beeping endlessly.

But when one listens closely, with his soul and his heart, one will hear not just the endless honking of cars, buses and motorcycles but the painful echoes of war...

Crossing the border to Vietnam

SIEM REAP, Cambodia - Hordes of street hawkers greeted me at the bus station here where I was to take an eight-hour trip to Vietnam.

The vendors offer everything under the sun -- from bread and vegetables to Cambodian beads, fans, hats and scarves of all colors.

But I don't really need anything to remind me of my visit here. Siem Reap is equally cheerful yet depressing, cold yet warm, silent yet friendly. These contradicting qualities make this western town of Cambodia difficult to forget.

I will always remember my friendly guide, he whose eyes are filled with hope for the future yet unable to conceal the sadness about his country's dark past. The smiles of school-age girls scattered around the muddy streets of Siem Reap as they struggle to make a living will stay in my memory for a long time. Beggars with missing legs or arms -- victims of the Khmer Rouge's land mines -- are all over. They call out to foreigners for a dollar or two.

How can one forget these vivid portraits of poverty, of desperation and of pain? In this country, the disparity between rich and poor nations is vivid. The difference is stark and telling.
The roads are muddy, filthy and dirty.

Potholes are everywhere and the sad thing is, the potholes seem to extend beyond the physical. Cambodians are very much a wounded people, no thanks to their country's bitter past.

Still, I left Siem Reap with hope for them. Someday, I know, they will conquer the monsters of the past and kill all the demons of yesterday.

Excitement filled me as I stepped on the bus. As with any other trips, I felt a strong sense of adventure to discover more, to see what lies out there, to knock myself out of the daily routine, to search for more stories, to yearn, to learn and unlearn, to affirm the joy in traveling, to enjoy everything new and foreign and to find my place between reality and the sun.

It was a grueling, eight-hour trip to Ho Chi Minh. With me on the bus are tourists and locals alike. A Mexican couple brought cans of Angkor Beer for the trip.

As we drove along, I thought I was back in Mindanao where acres and acres of rice fields stretched out into the horizon as far as the eye can see.

Houses on stilts lined the unpaved roads. The trip seemed to take forever, with the bus moving at a very slow pace. The scenery hardly changed even after several hours into the trip. I wonder what lies ahead. Where's my next stop?